Plenary Council 2020 – Is it Really Going to Make a Difference?

By Lisa Bright, 23 October 2019
Participants at the inaugural Diocese of Parramatta Forum. Image: Diocese of Parramatta.


The Australian Church is in the midst of Plenary Council 2020. In 2018-2019 there were listening and dialogue sessions responding to the question, “What do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?”

We have now been invited to engage in discernment sessions to further delve into the responses that were received to that question.

But as I visit different areas, the reactions to the Plenary Council are mixed. Whilst there is excitement about the hope that this Council offers, there is a resonance amongst some asking the question, “Is it really going to make a difference?”

How do we know that all the time that we have spent in listening and discernment sessions is going to be taken seriously? That our voices are going to heard.

  1. I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know that we have to have faith. We have to have faith in the Holy Spirit that everyone who engages in the Plenary process is really listening to what the Spirit is saying and that we have taken the time to discern that what we are sharing is really what we believe God is asking.
  2. We have been asked by the Bishops of Australia to engage in this process – to have our say. “The voices we captured through Listening and Dialogue represent the largest collaborative process the Church has ever undertaken in Australia and it forms a central plank of our ongoing reflection,” Plenary Council President Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB said. “[T]he involvement of Catholics across the country remains critical as the Council’s Listening and Discernment stage ramps up.” We must have trust in our leaders that the voices that they call to hear will be heard.
  3. The Plenary Council is the greatest opportunity we have in our Australian Church at this time, to respond to the signs of the times. This isn’t a new concept. We are challenged to be aware of the Signs of the Times in the Gospel (Lk 16:3). Vatican II states, “…the Church has always had the duty of scrutinising the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel. Thus, in language intelligible to each generation, she can respond to the perennial questions which men ask about this present life and the life to come, and about the relationship of the one to the other. We must therefore recognise and understand the world in which we live, its explanations, its longings, and its often dramatic characteristics.” (Gaudium Et Spes #4). The whole Plenary Council process, the listening and dialogue sessions, the discernment sessions, the writing groups and the council itself with lay participation are all opportunities to seriously consider the signs of the times through the voice of the People of God. We must seize this opportunity!
  4. It is a wasted opportunity if we say nothing in this Plenary process. Whatever it is that we want to say in response to the Plenary question, if we say nothing at all, then we cannot say we have not been heard. One cannot be heard if they do not speak. It is important, regardless of the outcome, that people have their say. We have been invited to do so. Again, let us seize this opportunity.

We must believe that what we offer in the Plenary process will be taken seriously. We must believe that the whole Plenary process is being guided by the Holy Spirit, as we are called to listen to what the Spirit is saying. We must believe that each of us has something worth sharing and that we are being encouraged to offer that to the Catholic Church in Australia. Now.


Plenary Council Prayer

Come, Holy Spirit of Pentecost.
Come, Holy Spirit of the great South Land.

O God, bless and unite all your people in Australia and guide us on the pilgrim way of the Plenary Council. Give us the grace to see your face in one another and to recognise Jesus, our companion on the road. Give us the courage to tell our stories and to speak boldly of your truth. Give us ears to listen humbly to each other and a discerning heart to hear what you are saying. Lead your Church into a hope-filled future, that we may live the joy of the Gospel. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, bread for the journey from age to age.


Our Lady Help of Christians, pray for us.
St Mary MacKillop, pray for us.


The Plenary Council invites people to continue to participate in the journey towards the Council sessions in 2020. There are many opportunities to engage in the “Listening and Discernment” phase by participating in small group sessions within the Diocese. Ask your priests or Deanery Representatives for session dates in parishes and deaneries or contact the Pastoral Planning Office on 8838 3441. You can also visit

For more information on the Plenary Council, visit


Lisa Bright is a Project Officer in the Pastoral Planning Office, Diocese of Parramatta.



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